Seattle Polish Film Festival: Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

USA | 2011 | 113 min. | Joseph Dorman

October 15, 2023

Seattle Polish Film Festival

Filmmaker Joseph Dorman presents the life, work and legacy of the Yiddish writer who used the vernacular of the common man.

SIFF year-round passes and vouchers are not valid for this screening.

Tevye the Milkman, the central character of Fiddler on the Roof, is far better known than his creator, Sholem Aleichem. Yet Aleichem’s contributions to Jewish culture are far greater than just giving voice to Tevye and his laments over rapidly changing shtetl life. Aleichem chronicled the wrenching shifts that dramatically reshaped eastern European Jewry as a whole in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Often referred to as the “Jewish Mark Twain,” Aleichem came of age as the cloistered culture of the shtetl was being punctured by an increasingly globalized economy. Industrial production was displacing small-town craftsmen and the younger generation was being pulled by a desire to assimilate into Russian culture. Aleichem captured these challenges with an acerbic humor that was evident at the age of 13 when he created an alphabetic glossary of the epithets that his stepmother frequently hurled at him and his siblings. Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness presents a riveting portrait of the man who transformed Yiddish from a vernacular language into a literary one. Interweaving excerpts from his work (read by the actors Peter Riegert and Rachel Dratch) with interviews, photographs and archival footage, the film brings to life a lost world of Yiddish culture on the cusp of a historic transformation.

  • Director: Joseph Dorman
  • Principal Cast: Rachel Dratch, Jason Kravits, Peter Reigert, David Roskies, Hillel Halkin, Dan Miron
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 113 min.
  • Language: English